There are many reasons to consider developing your site with web accessibility in mind
The US health department cites that nearly 20 percent of the US population is afflicted with some sort of disability. This is a broad definition that includes everything from temporary disabilities, colour blindness, and dyslexia, to quadriplegics but as our population ages, this is likely to increase. Planning ahead can ensure that these people will continue to be able to access your web site throughout life’s changes.
Web Accessibility is also a good indicator of corporate social responsibility. It shows that your organization cares about all members of the community.
If doing the right thing is not enough of a motivation you can also consider the growing amount of legislation. The US has legislation that requires all federally funded web sites to be Accessible (Section 508) and Ontario has similar legislation for government or other organizations over a certain size. Many other governments have existing legislation or are considering it.
Who Decides What is Accessible
There are two major frameworks that people follow for determining Web Accessibility.
The World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI) created a set of Web Content Accessibility Guidelines in 1999 and updated them (WCAG 2.0) in December 2008. The W3C is an influential international body that sets guidelines for many aspects of the web. WCAG is used as a reference point in many jurisdictions around the world. (See https://www.w3.org/WAI/intro/wcag)
The other major framework for our purposes is the US Section 508 legislation. Any organization in the US that receives funding from the Federal Government must ensure compliance with a set of accessibility guidelines. The good news is that the US 508 requirements nicely match the WCAG guidelines. Many other governments have existing legislation or guidelines.
To be included in the WCAG 2.0, each criterion must create a greater problem for people with disabilities than for those without disabilities. All criteria are also testable by a combination of humans or machines. They have done a good job removing ambiguity.
The W3C has three levels of compliance: A (lowest), AA, and AAA (highest). The levels were determined based on many factors:
- Is the solution essential to allow the site to function with Assistive Technology?
- Is it possible to satisfy the criteria for all sites and types of content?
- Can the skills be reasonably achieved by the content owners?
- Will the criteria impose limits on the look & feel or function of the web page?
The point with web accessibility is not to be more compliant than the next guy the point is to have a usable web site.
Good web accessibility involves following guidelines and simple rules when creating your site and maintaining content to ensure the greatest number of visitors can use your web site.
Despite your designers groaning, having an Accessible web site does not mean that your site design has to suffer. An accessible office building with a wheelchair ramp does not have to be less attractive than a non accessible office building that only has steps. Some techniques to improve Web Accessibility actually improve the web site for all users in much the same way that an elevator provides wheelchair access but is used by people of all abilities.
Web Accessibility as defined by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) involves four principals that all designers should keep in mind no matter what project they are working on.
- Perceivable - Information and user interface components must be presentable to users in ways they can perceive. (it can't be invisible to all of their senses)
- Operable - User interface components and navigation must be operable by users of all abilities using a variety of means including Assistive Technologies.
- Understandable - Information and the operation of user interface must be understandable. (the content or operation cannot be beyond their understanding)
- Robust - Content must be robust enough that it can be interpreted reliably by a wide variety of user agents, including assistive technologies. (as technologies and user agents evolve, the content should remain accessible)